‘I saw that strikingly intense light in the sky’
SPARTA — A bolt of lightning illuminating the sky still manages to instill a fear in Yasuko Ota that’s as fresh as the terror she felt that summer day in Nagasaki, Japan.
During the final stages of World War II, by executive order of President Harry S. Truman, the U.S. dropped the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima on Monday, Aug. 6, 1945. The detonation of “Fat Man” followed over Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
Ota, now 80, is one of 230,000 remaining “Hibakusha,” a Japanese word that literally translates into “explosion-affected people.”
She gave a special presentation to the Sparta United Methodist Church Saturday evening, recounting her experience of the day the bomb dropped.
The visit was organized by the groups New Jersey Peace Action and August 9th Saving Lives Task Force.
At the time, Ota was an eighth-grade student working in a Nagasaki ammunitions factory, 1.3 kilometers — slightly less than a mile — from the epicenter.
Ota and her friend were taking an afternoon break from work, walking around an area of empty houses, abandoned since the war began.
When it was clear the planes would strike, the girls ran into an empty house, but the house was so small they ended up going through a back door and outside.
She lost consciousness and was awoken sometime later by the sound of her friend’s cries. The house had collapsed to the ground, and Ota’s legs were buried under the rubble.
Another half hour passed before a stranger dragged her from the rubble.
The stranger collapsed after pulling her to safety and told her to run.
Ota, who is now vice president of Nihon Hidankyo, or the Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers, said the Hibakusha were shunned for years after the bomb drop because many of the survivors were disfigured and injured.
People did not know if the sickness caused by the bomb was contagious or if it could be passed on to future children. They did not understand that the area was struck by a nuclear weapon and survivors were suffering from over-exposure to radiation.
Ota went on to have five children, two of whom were still births.
All three of her surviving children were born prematurely at seven months. Two have suffered effects of the radiation, including her oldest son, Kohichi Ota, 60, who attended Saturday’s presentation. He had frequent nosebleeds throughout his grammar school years. Her daughter was born blind and lives in a residential facility outside of Tokyo.
Today, Ota, her son, members of New Jersey Peace Action and August 9th Saving Lives Task Force, will meet with a senior representative at Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-13) office to discuss the proposed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in both countries.
On April 8, the treaty was signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Final approval of the treaty requires a super majority of 67 votes, or approval from two-thirds of the Senate.
“I will never lose hope for a world of peace to come in the future,” Ota said. “The dreadful bombing experience that I had should never be repeated. Now, I appeal to you and to the world that we may all walk together along the road to peace.”